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THE SAN DIEGO UNION (Page G-3 ) 13-Aug-1995 Sunday

America fights phony "War on Drugs" ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ and PATRISIA GONZALES (C) Chronicle Features | RODRIGUEZ and GONZALES are co-authors of "Latino Spectrum," a syndicated column focusing on Latinos and Latin American affairs. 13-Aug-1995 Sunday

In April, ex-Drug Enforcement Agency agent Celerino Castillo made a pilgrimage to the Vietnam Memorial wall in Washington, D.C., where he left his boots next to the name of a friend killed in the war. The Pharr, Texas, native also left his Bronze Star, which he earned for his covert actions in Southeast Asia in 1972, and a letter to the president:

"Dear President Clinton, "In the 1980s, I spent six years in Central America as a special agent with the DEA. On January 14, 1986, I forewarned then Vice President George Bush of the U.S. government involvement in narcotics-trafficking (Oliver North) . . . but to no avail . . . "In display of my disappointment of my government, I am returning my Bronze Star, along with my last pair of jungle boots that I used in the jungles of Vietnam, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador and finally Guatemala." Drug connection is exposed While stationed in Central America, Castillo exposed the U.S. government's drug connection. He personally kept records on planes used in the U.S.-Contra resupply operation at Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador -arriving with guns and departing to the United States with cocaine from Colombia. "Every single pilot involved in the operation was a documented drug trafficker, who appeared in DEA files," he says. Castillo not only turned over his files to his superiors, but also confronted Bush with the information in Guatemala City -- several months before American Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua, an incident which first exposed the Iran-Contra affair. Had Castillo testified at the Iran-Contra hearings, he says North would have gone to jail and both Bush and President Reagan would have been impeached. "But nobody ever subpoenaed me," he says, and notes that the DEA claimed no files ever existed. "It was Bush's operation. In fact, it was impossible for President Reagan not to have known about it," says Castillo. In the 1980s, the same allegations of government-sanctioned drug-trafficking were continually leveled by wild-eyed "radicals" and Central American peace activists. However, because of his position as special agent, Castillo's charges cannot easily be dismissed. Amazingly, the drug operation at Ilopango was not a secret among U.S. and Salvadoran officials, he says. The Salvadoran military was perplexed as to why the drug connection was illegal. They thought it was simply part of the effort to topple the Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

When Castillo started with the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1978, he was ready to fight against a scourge that had claimed many of his friends in Southeast Asia, only to find that U.S. intelligence agencies themselves were involved in drug-trafficking and the training of death squads. Recent revelations by Congressman Robert Torricelli of the CIA involvement in the deaths of an American and a revolutionary in Guatemala barely scratch the surface. The real tragedy is that for decades, thousands of Guatemalans have disappeared yearly, says Castillo. Torricelli is expected to call for hearings this fall to investigate human-rights abuses against U.S. citizens in Guatemala. "I'm ready to testify, and so are three other agents," says Castillo, hoping that the role of the intelligence services in the drug trade, death squads and "disappearances" will finally be exposed. Because Castillo's findings went unheeded, he recently left the DEA and wrote a book, "Powderburns" (Mosaic Press), which documents his charges.

Drug traffic has increased Castillo says that on the basis of his work, he is convinced that drug money is what finances U.S. covert operations worldwide. He believes that despite the "War on Drugs," there are more drugs coming into the United States today than 15 years ago and estimates that at least 75 percent of all narcotics enter the country with the acquiescence of or direct participation by U.S. and foreign intelligence services.

It is they who must be held accountable for the flood of drugs on our streets today, he says. Similarly, the policy of turning a blind eye to drugs has created narco-democracies (governments tainted and funded by drug money) in Central and South America. That was the price of the U.S. war against communism, says Castillo. Today, Castillo spends his time painting. One haunting image is of a Mayan warrior with an American flag in one hand, an M-16 in the other and a DEA helicopter with a skull insignia hovering overhead. The Mayan's face is that of his friend, a dead DEA agent felled in the drug war in Peru. The image conjures up his plea to Clinton not to perpetuate this false "war": "Please do not do what Mr. Robert McNamara did regarding the Vietnam War."

Copyright Union-Tribune Publishing Co.